When you need to take your child for a doctor’s appointment, it’s natural to worry about how much you should tell them. On the one hand, you don’t want to concern them or cause them to worry.
On the other hand, you want them to be prepared for what will happen. Whether it’s a check-up, a vaccination, or appointment for a test or an ultrasound scan, there are several things to consider when talking to your child about a forthcoming doctor’s appointment.
Every Child Is Different
The most important thing to remember is that every child is unique. There is no hard and fast rule and how much you tell them and when depends on them.
If you know your child isn’t good at judging time, or they are likely to get anxious, you might decide not to tell them about the appointment too much in advance or even on the day.
However, older children might be able to cope with knowing a bit more and might appreciate more details in advance.
Use Age-Appropriate Language
Talk to your child in a way they understand and use language that is appropriate for their age. You can get books to read together, watch television programmes, or find kid-friendly clips on YouTube.
You could even show your child the doctor’s website if there are pictures of the doctor’s office and the staff who work there.
Demonstrate What Will Happen
With younger children, you can use role-play. For example, if your child’s doctor appointment is for an ultrasound, you can pretend you are the radiologist, and your child or their favourite toy needs a scan.
Ask them to lie back on the sofa and lift up their clothes. Very gently press on their neck, chest, tummy, or the area which will be examined, as though you are scanning them with a handheld probe.
Stick to What You Know
Don’t make promises you won’t be able to keep — for example, telling your child they won’t need a particular test or saying something won’t hurt. Instead, remember that sometimes it’s better to say as little as possible and only say what you know for sure and what they really need to know.
Unless you specialise in paediatrics yourself, there is also a risk that you could get something wrong.
If you give your child incorrect information, you could be faced with an awkward situation, they might not trust you the next time, or it could harm your relationship.
Choose the Right Time
If your child is likely to worry, it’s essential to pick the right time to talk. Don’t tell them at bedtime the night before their appointment because they might find it difficult to sleep. A tired child will be even less able to cope with what’s happening.
Choose a time when you have the space to answer any questions they might have. Talk in a calm, kind manner and say positive things. Explain why they need the appointment. Ask them if they understand.
Make Sure You’re Prepared, Too
Try to plan your child’s nap and meals to fit in with the appointment, so they’re not tired or hungry. You can take a drink and a snack with you as well as a book or a fun activity in case you need to wait.
For some appointments, you need to follow specific instructions. For example, for an ultrasound scan, your child might need to fast for several hours or drink a certain amount of water about 45 minutes to an hour before their appointment.
If this is the case, we will send you an email beforehand, but it’s always best to check our website in advance of your child’s appointment to be on the safe side.
Acknowledge Their Worries
If your child is concerned, encourage them to talk to you. When we speak out loud, our fears can dissipate, and we can feel more relaxed, and the same is true for kids. If they are upset, empathise and show them you care.
Reassure them that you have confidence in them. Remember not to go over the top, though, because your child will pick up on your reactions and worry the appointment is something much bigger than it is. You can ask them, “Do you want me to hold your hand?”
Enjoy a Treat Together Afterwards
After the appointment, take your child to the playground or ice cream or another treat. But don’t make the treat contingent on good behaviour because that’s not fair.
If your child needed a blood test and made a fuss, it wouldn’t be fair to punish them for bad behaviour. Instead, reward them with something nice, whatever happens at the appointment.
That way, you turn the experience into a positive one, and you can both relax and unwind together.
It’s a good idea to prepare your child for their doctor’s appointment so they’re not surprised or upset on the day. If they know what to expect, they will feel more in control of the situation and are less likely to be caught off-guard and get confused or upset.
However, every child is different, and you need to judge every situation according to your child.